A Michigan state board on Dec. 16 approved Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) as the provider of laptop computers and other technical services for a statewide sixth-grade program.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company agreed to charge no more than $275 per student per year in its bid for the state’s “Freedom to Learn” program. It also will provide technical support, insurance, and training.

George Warren, head of HP’s K-12 business, said the deal is a big one for the company. “No one has ever won a deal this big. This is the biggest deal to hit this market ever,” he said about the “Freedom to Learn” program.

That remains to be seen. Lawmakers are considering cutting $22 million in state funding from the $39 million laptop program to help resolve the state’s $834 million budget deficit. The state Senate last week approved a supplemental appropriation bill that would cut all the state funds from the program, leaving it with only $17 million from the federal government.

But the federal dollars can be used only by schools with high concentrations of free and reduced-price lunches for low-income students. Only one-quarter of Michigan’s 3,000 schools, about 38,500 sixth graders, would then be eligible, the state education department said.

Apple Computer has been the beneficiary of other high-profile school laptop contracts in recent years. In December 2002, the Maine Department of Education signed a four-year, $37.2 million contract with Apple to supply the technology, training, and support for that state’s groundbreaking initiative to equip every seventh and eighth grade public school student and teacher with wireless notebook computers and internet access.

And in May 2001, Henrico County, Va., school officials announced a four-year, $18.5 million technology initiative to lease 23,000 laptop computers from Apple for all middle and high school students and teachers.

Michigan’s State Administrative Board on Dec. 16 signed off on the Joint Evaluations Committee’s recommendation to make HP the provider for the statewide laptop program. Now HP and the state have to agree on an official contract that sets up specific terms and conditions, said Debbie White, spokeswoman for the Michigan Virtual University.

Warren said he hoped to finish the four-year contract this week.

Schools have until Jan. 16 to apply for a grant under the program through the Michigan Virtual University, White said. Schools will have to pay $25 for each student to have a computer through the program.

Those schools that received grants under a smaller laptop program last year and apply under the new program could see laptop computers in their classrooms as early as Jan. 31, White said.

Warren said he expected a larger portion of grant winners will be announced in August, and those schools would get laptops for the 2004-2005 school year.


Freedom to Learn

Hewlett-Packard Co.

Apple Computer